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Instead of vacation, take a sabbatical

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David Harrison/eyevine/ZUMA Press/Newscom/File

(Read caption) The British author Phyllis Dorothy James, known as P.D. James, is shown with her typewriter in this 2006 file photo. When guest blogger Trent Hamm used vacation days for a "sabbatical," he spent the time drafting a novel.

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In September 2004, I was about to leave my first post-college job. My boss at that time – who happens to be one of the people I respect the most in this world, even now after my radical career shift – observed that I had a pile of unused vacation time that was basically going to disappear when I left that job in mid-October. He sat down with me and, once he was sure that the things I was working on were in good shape and that I’d be easily available if anything else needed to be finished up, he suggested that I use that remaining use-it-or-lose-it vacation time in order to transition to my new job.

In other words, I had about two weeks of vacation coming to me. I wasn’t really sure what to do with that time, though. I didn’t have children. My wife didn’t have any vacation time coming. So I asked him what I should do with the time. He looked at me thoughtfully and simply said, “Why don’t you just take a sabbatical?”

A sabbatical means a period in which you choose not to work in order to achieve something else that will improve your life. If you take a week off of work in order to re-pave your driveway, that’s a sabbatical. If you take two weeks off in order to take a class, that’s a sabbatical.

So what did I do during that week? I drafted a novel. It was the second novel-length work of fiction that I’ve completed in my life (and, like the first one, I now think it’s pretty awful). It was also a great learning experience for me. It taught me how to organize the threads of a complex story. It showed me that I had the capacity to write such a lengthy thing. It gave me the experience that I can build on with better stories later on.

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